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Blockbuster cinema is more interested in looking backwards than telling new stories

Hollywood seems intent on taking viewers back to the films they loved growing up – perhaps hoping absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Darren Mooney

IT IS SUGGESTED, somewhat cynically, that the Golden Age of science-fiction is 12.

It appears that the same might be true of blockbuster cinema, if this summer’s slate is to be believed. Hollywood seems to be making a conscious effort to take viewers back to the films and properties that they loved growing up, hoping absence makes the heart grow fonder.

In 2008, Indiana Jones came out of a 19-year retirement in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. In 2011, The Muppets returned 12 years after the theatrical release of Muppets From Space.

This year, perhaps the most obvious example is the release of a fourth Mad Max film three decades after the release of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.

Downplaying disappointments 

However, the most telling trend is that towards films that downplay or ignore the disappointing interquels to connect with the more-fondly-remembered original films.

Jurassic World is separated from Jurassic Park III by 14 years, but from the original Jurassic Park by 22 years. Terminator Genisys arrives six years after Terminator Salvation, but the last film it really cares about is Terminator II: Judgment Day, released 24 years ago.

Although it is too early to tell for sure, it seems that JJ Abrams’ Star Wars film will connect most firmly with original trilogy from the ’70s and ’80s rather than the prequels from the ’90s and ’00s.

What is particularly interesting about Jurassic World and Terminator Genisys is how the sequels weave metaphors for their own nostalgia. The plots are quite candid about their shameless pandering for nostalgia.

In Jurassic World, it seems like the original theme park has become something of a fetish object in the world of the film – despite the fact that dozens of people died. The movie takes place on the same island, with our heroes even visiting some of the same locales. (And driving the same jeeps.)

Rather blatant commentary on Jurassic World itself

Cynical wise-cracking programmer Lowery (Jake Johnson) is wearing a vintage T-shirt with the logo of the original theme park on it, describing it as “legit.” Visitors are welcomed to the park through the original gates from that iconic sequence in the original.

It is a rather blatant commentary on Jurassic World itself, where the original film becomes something to be worshipped. Kids in a car menaced by a gigantic dinosaur? Got that! Raptors versus a bigger dinosaur? You betcha! Those iconic red flares? Sure, why not!

Jurassic World positions its new designer dinosaur – the Indominus Rex! – as a metaphor for its own hubris. The Indominus Rex is a creature cooked in a lab, constructed from recognisable traits of familiar dinosaurs that tested well. One senses that Jurassic World can empathise with that.

There is just the faintest trace of self-hatred in all this. While the Jurassic Park films have typically been sympathetic to their monsters, acknowledging that this is their nature, Jurassic World is less equivocal. The Indominus Rex is an abomination; it must die.

Army squads are dispatched to hunt and kill it. This an abrupt deviation from the franchise’s “live and let live” approach. Only one dinosaur was killed by a human on-screen in the entire original trilogy, a raptor impaled on a spike in The Lost World.

More interested in celebrating its own history

Even in that film, Ian Malcolm fought to save the T. Rex rampaging through San Diego. Although Jurassic World could not (or did not want to) lure back any of the original human cast, it did bring back the T. Rex from the original Jurassic Park.

“This movie is her Unforgiven,” boasted director Colin Trevorrow in pre-release interviews. It sounds great in concept, but it amounts to one quick jokey cameo at the start of the film, followed by a last-minute intervention at the climax.

The handful of viewers who haven’t seen the original might have trouble grasping the significance of this late arrival. She doesn’t need an introduction, because the audience already knows her. Jurassic World is more interested in celebrating its history than it is in telling its own story.

A franchise too iconic and successful to ever die

The same is certainly true of Terminator Genisys, which exploits the time travel at the heart of the franchise to position itself as both sequel and prequel, remake and reboot. Details of the first two films are lovingly recreated, with one early showcase pitting 2015 Arnold against 1984 Arnold.

“I am inevitable,” boasts the villain at the climax of the film, and he could just as easily be talking about the film itself. A franchise too iconic and successful to ever die, strong enough to weather both Terminator III and Terminator: Salvation, a Terminator sequel was all but inescapable.

The film begins by restaging the events leading to Terminator and Terminator II: Judgement Day. John Connor (Jason Clarke) leads the human resistance to victory. A time machine is discovered. Kyle Reese(Jai Courtney) is sent back in time… and then everything explodes.

Terminator Genisys uses time travel as a metaphor for the nostalgia fuelling the film. The fifth film in the franchise suggests that the past has been revisited so often that it no longer actually exists as anything more than a collection of images and familiar elements.

History and memory combine and override one another: 1984 is home not only to a classic Arnold, but also to familiar elements from the sequel – a battle-hardened Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), a friendly Terminator playing an awkward father-figure, a shape-changing temporal assassin.

The central dynamics of the Terminator franchise have always been odd

There are points where Terminator Genisys threatens to become as self-aware as Skynet itself. The casting of Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor provides a clear link to the franchise’s past, with Clarke starring in Game of Thrones with former Sarah Connor, Lena Headey.

Early on, as the rebels discover a time machine buried beneath Skynet, the camera drifts away from John Connor to linger on British actor Matthew Smith, who has wandered into the background of the shot. One suspects that he knows a thing about time machines; it turns out that he does.

The central dynamics of the Terminator franchise have always been odd, due to the time travel baked into the premise. Terminator Genisys renders them almost incestuous.
Kyle Reese remembers being rescued by John Connor and raised like a surrogate son by the revolutionary leader, before being sent back in time to father the man who was like a father to him. Sarah Connor affectionately nicknames a guardian sent by her future son as “Pops.”

The implication seems to be that all the tripping through time, all the attempts to journey back to the key moments, have distorted and contorted the narrative creating a decidedly unstable and volatile system to the point where the original is well and truly lost.

You can’t go home again, although that won’t stop anybody from trying.

Darren Mooney has a movie blog, them0vieblog.com . You can get in touch with Darren here. To read more articles by Darren for TheJournal.ie click here.

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